News in Brief: A National Roundup

May 29, 2002 6 min read
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School District Not Liable In LeTourneau Case

Neither the Highline, Wash., school district nor the local police department should be held liable for failing to recognize the sexual relationship between former 6th grade teacher Mary Kay LeTourneau and her then-12-year-old student, Vili Fualaau, a jury decided last week.

Mr. Fualaau, now 18, charged in a lawsuit that the co-defendants had been negligent in failing to protect him from the teacher, and he asked for $1.9 million in damages, said Barbara Blackshear-Haley, a spokeswoman for the 18,000-student suburban Seattle district.

Ms. LeTourneau, a married woman with four children who was 34 at the time the relationship began, gave birth to two daughters fathered by the boy. She is now serving a 7 1/2-year prison sentence for child rape.

“The verdict confirmed that we acted appropriately,” Ms. Blackshear-Haley said of the outcome in the civil suit.

Mr. Fualaau’s lawyer could not be reached for comment, but told local reporters he was disappointed with the verdict. He declined to say whether he would file an appeal in the case, which was presented in a local district court.

—Julie Blair

Local Md. Activists Fight Move To Appointed School Board

Community activists in Prince George’s County, Md., are mounting a campaign to throw out a new state law dissolving the county district’s elected school board.

Citizens for an Elected Board is collecting signatures to place a measure on the November ballot that would overturn the state law, which replaces the nine-member elected board with a nine-member board appointed by the governor and the county executive.

The group must collect 19,000 signatures by the end of June to keep the elected board in place until a countywide referendum can be held during the upcoming general election.

The Maryland legislature voted to replace the conflict-ridden board for the 132,000- student system with an appointed one this spring. (“Prince George’s County School Board to Be Replaced Under New Md. Law,” April 17, 2002.)

The new board members are scheduled to take office June 1, but their powers will be suspended for 30 days if the citizens’ group has collected one-third of the needed signatures. If the group collects all of the required signatures by June 30, the board’s powers would be suspended until the matter is settled on election day.

—David J. Hoff

Trends in Smoking Among High School Students

Cigarette smoking among adolescents, which increased during most of the 1990s, has declined significantly since 1997, according to a report this month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The federal agency attributed the drop to the 70 percent increase in the price of cigarettes since the end of 1997, increased school-based efforts to prevent tobacco use, and mass-media campaigns to prevent smoking. If the trend continues, officials said, the nation will be on track to reach its goal of reducing the smoking rate for high school students to 16 percent or less by 2010.

The chart shows the percentage of high school students who reported ever smoking, current smoking, and current frequent smoking on biennial national surveys from 1991 to 2001.

SOURCE: Youth Risk Behavior Survey, United States, 1991-2001

Cincinnati Board OKs Plan To Modernize All Schools

In a move that marks the biggest public construction project in Cincinnati history, the city’s school board has approved spending $985 million to modernize all of its schools.

The 10-year plan, approved unanimously May 20, calls for the district to build 35 new schools and renovate 31 others, district officials said. By 2012, the district will operate 66 schools, 14 fewer than it now operates, since it will merge some schools.

The plan was crafted jointly with the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which is directing a statewide effort to upgrade schools. Seven other large districts in Ohio are also undertaking construction programs.

As a result of a state supreme court ruling mandating a revised state formula for school funding, Ohio is obligated to contribute 23 percent of the cost of Cincinnati’s plan. The state is expected to give the plan final approval in July.

Cincinnati voters would have to approve a $480 million bond issue to complete the second of four phases of the building project.

—Catherine Gewertz

Hawaii Mental-Health Aide Accused Of Improper Billing

Hawaii education officials are saying they do not believe the indictment of a therapeutic aide who was supposed to provide services to a child with special needs indicates that financial abuses are widespread throughout the school system.

Susan Puapuaga, who used to work for a Honolulu mental-health agency called Alaka’I Na Keiki, is accused of billing the state for $1,800 in services that were never delivered.

The May 16 indictment is the first criminal charge brought against anyone working in connection with the Felix consent decree, a 1994 federal court order requiring both the Hawaii education department and the state health department to improve special education services in the statewide district.

“We don’t think this points fingers at the department of education,” said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the department. “We should recognize that for the most part, there were service providers who were doing things appropriately.”

Hawaii Attorney General Earl Anzai has hinted, however, that more indictments are likely.

—Linda Jacobson

Catholic Schools Could Benefit If Cardinal’s Residence Is Sold

In a reflective moment in his homily during an ordination Mass this month, Cardinal Francis George of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago said he’d like to explore the possibility of selling his historic residence to benefit the archdiocesan schools.

“He talked about how the priesthood calls for a priest to live a simple, humble life,” said the cardinal’s spokesman, James W. Dwyer. “He said he sometimes feels uneasy living a simple, humble life while living in a mansion.”

The red-brick residence of Chicago’s archbishops, built in 1885 and known as “19 Chimneys,” is one of the largest and best- preserved buildings of its kind in the area.

The archdiocese will close 16 schools at the end of the school year because of low enrollment, Mr. Dwyer noted. Cardinal George said he’d like to increase the school funds of the archdiocese “so I’d never have to close a school again,” according to Mr. Dwyer.

When Cardinal George was questioned after the Mass about whether proceeds from the possible sale of his residence could also pay for settlements in court cases involving sexual misconduct by priests, the cardinal said “that’s a possibility,” according to Mr. Dwyer.

—Mary Ann Zehr

Teacher Placed on Leave For Starter-Pistol Threat

An 8th grade math teacher at the 1,300-student Haverford (Pa.) Middle School has been relieved of his duties, with pay, after threatening a student with a starter pistol.

George Trabosh, 44, was working in his classroom when three female students began putting stickers on his face. The girls appeared to be annoying him with the stickers and ignored his repeated requests for them to stop, according to Sgt. John Walsh of the Haverford Township Police Department.

Mr. Trabosh, who helps with the school’s track and field program, finally pulled out a starter pistol and pointed it at one the students, stating that he was “going to kill this girl,” Mr. Walsh said.

The teacher has been charged with assault, making terroristic threats, and reckless endangerment of another person, all misdemeanors. A hearing has been scheduled for May 30.

Neither Mr. Trabosh nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.

—Marianne D. Hurst

Death: Stephen Jay Gould

Stephen Jay Gould, a provocative paleontologist and demystifier of science who was a staunch opponent of teaching creationism in the public schools, died May 20 after a 20-year battle with cancer. He was 60.

Mr. Gould spent his career researching, writing, and teaching at Harvard University.

He fought to defend the teaching of evolution and to keep accounts of divine creation out of science classrooms. In 1999, when he was the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the group joined with two other science organizations to bar the Kansas board of education from reprinting portions of their science standards in the state’s new academic standards, which had dropped most references to evolution.

—Andrew Trotter

A version of this article appeared in the May 29, 2002 edition of Education Week as News in Brief: A National Roundup

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